Sunday, February 22, 2009

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Our Wizard of Oz party was a huge success! We invited two other classes and had around 25 kids plus staff and some parents in attendance. Since our cooperative has taken over a recently vacated elementary school in the county we were able to reserve its gym for our party, no need to fight for space in any of our buildings. YAY! The Skill Development Center is located here as well and we contracted with the vocational program, which runs a bakery, to make cookies for us. And because the space was recently used as a cafeteria we had all the tables we needed in addition to access to a beautiful playground.
Everyone entered through a rainbow created with streamers taped over the door. The Yellow Brick Road was created with yellow table covers securely taped down with (mostly) yellow duck tape. To the right you can see a table that held paper bag "baskets" the kids used to collect prizes.
The first activity station was the Yellow Brick Road game. We gave out lollipops for prizes. And what about the creative use of that cooler as Dorothy's house complete with Wicked Witch of the East and Ruby Slippers?
Next up was the apple toss with Scarecrow. We gave out rainbow "slinky" type plastic springs for prizes. The background is the Dora Explorer scene setter mentioned in a previous post. The Scarecrow was enlarged from one of Pete Wells' illustrations.
After the Scarecrow came Pin the Heart on the Tin Man. Tin Man was also enlarged from one of Pete Wells' illustrations and highlighted with aluminum foil. We couldn't laminate him so hung a clear shower curtain over top of him to protect him. Hearts were "pinned" on using paper hearts with tape. Blindfold was optional. Prize was a heart ornament I picked up at Wal-Mart before Valentine's Day.
Lion's game was in the middle of the gym around a big circle. Unfortunately I don't have a kid-free picture of it, but we used a stuffed lion to decorate the circle and gave out medals of courage. The game is played like Duck Duck Goose but saying "Lions and Tigers and Bears OH MY!" and running on "on my." Nonverbal kids used a step-by-step programmed with "Lions"--"Tigers"--"Bears"--"OH MY!" Everyone had tons of fun running around the circle.
Melt the Witch was the next game in the rotation. We had a witch's hat on an empty 2 liter bottle. The kids tossed blue balls at the bottle to knock it over. This was surprisingly difficult for them! The prize for this activity was a mini bottle of bubbles. The witch is another enlargement from Pete Wells and the background is the other half of the Dora Explorer scene setter.
At the end of the Yellow Brick Road was the Emerald City. There were three activities available here, although only two of them are pictured (you can see the Lion game circle in the front of the picture). The kids were able to frost and decorate sugar cookies at the table on the right. The table on the left held a variety of green-themed sensory toys. After I took this photo I set up the portable podium with a lap top that was running the Wizard of Oz cause effect activity from Pete Wells' Oztastic unit. The kids had a lot of fun pushing the button to make Oz speak over the surround sound system. And don't you just love that the stage curtains are already green? Made the perfect backdrop for watching the movie during lunch. They even matched the Wizard's throne room.
The sensory table contained a variety of toys I found at Wal-Mart and/or had available in my classroom including: green Moon Sand, green plastic leis, green sensory/discovery bottles, green Flarp, a "slime" ball, a green fish that vibrates, a green hand held fan that lights up, and a bottle of green bubbles. The prize for the section, besides a cookie, was a mardi gras bead necklace.

We also had a "field of poppies" for kids who needed a break from all the action. The poppies are simply red paper plates taped to the wall. We had a CD player in here as well with the soundtrack to Wizard of Oz. We used folded up cafeteria tables to create a room divider of sorts.
It was actually warm enough for the kids to go outside for a few minutes while we set tables up for lunch. After everyone was settled with their sack lunches we started the movie on the big screen. The kids were enthralled. And the kids who needed to be more active were able to run around at the other end of the gym.
Set up took us about two hours (not counting the time it took us to make the decorations--gotta love teacher work days) but clean up only took about 20 minutes even with us salvaging what we could of the decorations. Best of all, everyone left with smiles on their faces. I really wish I could share the photos of all the fun we had.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

How Oz-some!

I was checking my email today and received one from someone I don't know. Now, I don't usually open emails from unknown sources but the Subject got my attention: "Interest in your Oz program." Hmmm... The email was from Jane Albright who is a member of of the International Wizard of Oz Club (IWOC). Seems like the yahoo group Everything Oz posted a link to my blog, highlighting our little Wizard of Oz project. She also invited me to submit a proposal to present at the upcoming National Wizard of Oz Club Convention to be held in neighboring Manhattan, KS (home of Kansas State University) and Wamego, KS which hosts the Wizard of Oz museum and has done a lot of tourism-related things around the theme if Oz, including Oztoberfest. The third part of the event is a coinciding academic conference at KSU on the theme of "Recreating Oz." And while I find that an extreme honor, to be recognized for my efforts with a very small group of children who tend to be among the "hidden" population (for those who do what I do, you know what I mean), what I found to be even more interesting and thrilling was what happened when I opened up my blog and checked my stat counter. Just since last night when I most recently posted I've had over 30 visitors (for me that's a lot), most of whom have come from the EverythingOz community. How cool is it that these people have taken the time to not only check out my work but also the work of all the other people whose resources have contributed to this project (Pete Wells,, Dale Air, etc., etc.). Not only that, but hopefully a few of these folks will return to see the "final product" and learn what kids who face such significant challenges can accomplish and that they are really more like every other kid their age than they are different. And that Kansas is a wonderful place to educate your children, especially if they have special needs. It's a beautiful place to live, and not gray at all.

So welcome to all my Everything Oz visitors. I hope you enjoy our trip Over the Rainbow, stay for a visit, and come back soon.

Friday, February 13, 2009

There's No Place Like Home

During Week 4 we had a blast reading the story (the kids were really into it). But by far the most popular activity we did was the Great Green Food Taste Test. Every one of the kids had a fantastic time and EVERYONE used their higher level (relative to the student) communication systems to comment, request, and ask and answer questions. AWESOME! Tasting activities are a top favorite for my tube fed kids and all the kids demonstrated definite and consistent preferences.

In Week 5 of our Wizard of Oz project we vanquish a Witch, get some wishes granted, and learn that there truly is no place like home. Activities this week include:
  • This rainbow art project: We are going to do the mobile project and add a writing component by choosing things about home that are important to us, gluing the PCS symbols to clouds and hanging the clouds from the bottom of the rainbow
  • Making rainbow cookies

This week we are also hosting our big Wizard of Oz party. We've invited friends from two other classes to join us at the Skill Development Center. We are expecting about 25 kids plus staff and parents and have lots of fun activities planned:

  • Follow the Yellow Brick Road game with lollipops for prizes
  • Apple Toss with Scarecrow (toss plastic apples into a bucket from different distances) with rainbow springs as prizes
  • Pin the Heart on the Tin Man with heart ornaments I found at Wal-Mart on clearance
  • Lions and Tigers and Bears OH MY! game (played like Duck Duck Goose) with medals of courage as prizes (I found them at Wal-Mart)
  • Emerald City sensory play (lots of green sensory toys like discovery bottles, colored rice, mardi gras beads, play doh, etc.) and cookie decorating; the kids will get a cookie (for those who can eat them) and a mardi gras necklace
  • Melt the Witch game (place witch hat on an empty two liter pop bottle; toss a blue bean bag or small ball at the hat to knock it over) with bubbles (to represent water) as prizes
  • We'll also have the Poppy Field quiet zone with bean bags and mats and Wizard of Oz music playing for kids who need a break from the rest of the action.
  • During lunch we'll show the movie using the big screen in the Skill Development Center's gym
  • We'll also have kids and adults dressed as the various characters in the story

We spent today's teacher work day finding and/or making decorations for the party:

  • For the Yellow Brick Road we are using yellow disposable table cloths duck taped to the floor to make them safe to walk on
  • The Emerald City area will be covered in green table cloths (it helps that this section is located in front of the stage which has green curtains)
  • Party City had an awesome Dora the Explorer scene setter background sans characters which will make a perfect Oz countryside. It even has a passable Yellow Brick Road
  • We made enlarged versions of some of Pete Wells's wonderful characters from his Oztastic unit to designate the different areas; Dorothy's house will even be 3-D as there is a large cooler in that section of the gym (add some "windows" and a "door" and a pair of stuffed striped stockings wearing ruby slippers and you have a house!)
  • The goodie bags the kids will carry around to collect their prizes are made from brown gift bags with a picture of Toto glued to the front
  • We'll have a crepe paper streamer "rainbow" hanging over the entrance door

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Great Green Food Taste Test

I just posted The Great Green Food Taste Test activity to Adapted Learning. Log in and check it out! The activity contains an interactive graph; simple, intermediate, and advanced communication boards (or at least how we define simple, intermediate, and advanced in my classroom), a cut apart board, and a Read Me page that explains how it all works.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Scheduling update

I posted awhile ago about how our schedule was going to change drastically at the start of second semester when my program morphed into a dual middle and high school program. So far our crazy, chaotic routine is working well for us.

Our mornings always start the same with breakfast or peer time/leisure skills followed by Morning Meeting at 8:30 (you can find my Morning Meeting routine on Adapted Learning; log in to access the specific file).

After Morning Meeting we launch into two hours of Rotations. Each staff member not going on community outings has a "specialty" area: Academics/Cognitive Development; Computer Instruction; Assistive Technology; Physical Therapy/Gross Motor Skills; and Structured Sensory-Leisure/Assessment (this one is my area). Communication and Fine Motor Skills are embedded into the other areas. Rotations last 20-30 minutes depending on if we have 4 or 5 that day because of community outings. This is intensive 1:1 time for the kids and the short, highly structured sessions seem to be working well. And because of my "specialty" area, I can usually free up time to work with individual staff members within their areas AND I don't have to worry about training everyone on how to take state assessment data.

Rotations take us to lunch programs. I have 4 out of 6 students who prepare their own meals; the other 2 use g-tubes and have medication and other issues that result in the need for an extended rest break at about this time each day. Following lunch the kids get a 30 minute Independent Leisure break while the adults sneak in lunch.

At 12:30 the kids do chores (laundry, dishes, wipe tables, etc.) then we gather for a Group time activity (art, cooking, literature, game, etc.). Group generally takes about an hour, and then it's time to do bathroom trips and get ready to go home.

We also have each day categorized to make sure we cover all the academic areas, everything on their IEPs, and essential State Assessment skills. Mondays are dedicated to Math related skills, Tuesdays to Writing, Wednesdays to Reading, and Friday is still Sensory Fun Day.

Sounds pretty straight forward, huh? EXCEPT we also have an active Community Based Instruction program:
On Mondays ALL high school-age students (grade 9 and up) go to a nearby high school to participate with same age peers in Circle of Friends activities. Currently that involves 2 students and staff. In the afternoon 3 students go grocery shopping for their weekly food supplies (the fourth student who does meal prep follows a somewhat strict diet so his mother provides his supplies).
On Tuesdays two students/staff go swimming in the morning at an area YMCA on a rotating schedule. In the afternoon all high school students age 16 or older (currently 1 student) go to the Skill Development Center to work on a variety of Home Living and Vocational skills. We also have Speech in the afternoon.
On Wednesdays the 16 and up group goes to the Skill Development Center in the morning, prepares and eats lunch there, then goes to an area YMCA to participate in an exercise program.
On Thursdays the whole class goes out into the community, sometimes together and sometimes in groups of 3 students/staff. We go bowling, to a special movie showing dedicated to patrons with unique special needs, to the video arcade, to the mall, to a nail salon, etc.
On Fridays we stay at school BUT this is our "peer day." It is also "therapy day" as we have both Speech and Physical Therapy. Peers come one class period in the morning for "hang out" time (these kids are from the alternative learning class and work to earn the opportunity to join us) and right after lunch for slightly more structured activities (currently they are helping with Wizard of Oz activities).

This schedule is hectic and makes a lot of work for me in planning, organizing, and preparing materials, but it's been good for the class. The kids don't get stagnant and bored with their programming, the adults are on their toes all the time, and everyone gets a break from the over crowded conditions of our classroom at some point in the week. That goes a long long way to reducing the inevitable tensions that arise when people spend so much time in such close proximity (believe me when I say that is a whole other post!). I'll admit it's been hard for me to release so much control. Up until now I've always been everywhere the kids are. We pretty much did everything as a group and I knew what was going on all the time. Not that I don't trust my paras, because I absolutely do, but it's just not the same as me being there. However, the "release of power" has been good for me too. Other than when I have to go to start new programs, solve problems, or evaluate success, life is actually a bit less crazy for me. Or maybe I'm just used to it by now. Who knows?

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Great and Powerful Oz

This week we had fun with Part 3 of The Wizard of Oz. A lot happens in this section, between the angry apple trees, meeting both the Tin Man and the Lion, and running across poison poppies. Just reading the story took most of our available time. Today the kids made lion "masks" with their peer buddies. We adapted a bit by using smaller paper plates and gluing a photo of the kids' faces to the center. Ours don't seem to look much like lions at the moment as they are made from some very interesting colors (blue and orange, purple and gold, etc.). Maybe once we add some ears... The kids really enjoyed the adapted Boardmaker book (still waiting to hear back from Pete Wells to see if it's OK if I share these adaptations), probably because some of the best music is in this section. I don't know how many times we've heard "If I Only Had a Brain" and "If I Were King of the Forest."

Next week we find out if everyone survives the poison poppies, meet the Great and Powerful Oz, and venture off on a quest after the witch's broom. As part of our activities we will
  • Do a green foods taste test and graph our likes and dislikes
  • Fingerpaint with different shades of green (if time; it's a four day week for us)
  • Do the heart collage we ran out of time for this week
  • Do a lesson on the concepts of "real" and "pretend"

Our big Wizard of Oz party is in two weeks. Hopefully we'll be finished with the story by then. There's only one part to go after this next week so I think we'll make it.